10 Murder Victims Who Have Never Been Identified
By Morris M, Urban Ghosts Media, 11 August 2016.
By Morris M, Urban Ghosts Media, 11 August 2016.
The likes of Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer have been woven into the fabric of crime lore. The fact that they have never been identified only serves to make their infamous tales all the more compelling. But the unidentified murder victim has been a tragic and horrifying staple since time immemorial. Perhaps it’s the thought that whatever terrible fate befell them could also happen to us. Perhaps it’s the fictional life we project onto the anonymous; the sort of life that could only ever exist in an observer’s head. The following accounts deal with 10 unidentified murder victims from different times and places, bound together by their tragic anonymity.
1. Isdal Woman
Image: Gourami Watcher
In 1970, a university professor and his two daughters hiking in Norway’s austere, forbidding ‘death valley’ stumbled across a charred corpse. It was the body of a young woman. She had a burnt passport beside her, and had ingested a large number of sleeping pills. Her fingertips had been filed off. The labels were missing from her clothes. Who she was and how she got there is an enduring mystery.
It turned out the woman had been traveling under a number of false identities. Witnesses who remembered seeing her said she’d spoken multiple languages. When her hotel room was raided, police found journal entries written in code, and 500 Deutschmarks stuffed into the lining of a suitcase. Beyond that: nothing. No trace. No relatives. It was like she’d just formed from nothing out of the Norwegian snow, a newborn woman with no history.
Many today assume the Isdal woman was a spy, assassinated by a rival agency. But who the unidentified murder victim worked for - and who killed her - are mysteries we may never solve.
2. The Persian Princess
The story of the Persian Princess is like something out of a horror film. On a fateful day in 2000, Pakistani authorities raided a black market ring that dealt in stolen antiquities. They recovered the mummified body of an ancient Persian princess. She was wrapped in cloth and lying in a decaying coffin. Experts thought her remains could be worth millions.
Although Afghanistan and Iran both laid claim to the mummy, it went on display in the National Museum of Pakistan. Thousands flocked to see it. At which point, things took a spooky turn. An American archaeologist was offered the chance to buy an identical mummy on the black market. Intrigued at two mummies surfacing so close to one another, he examined the new body. When his samples came back, they confirmed his worst suspicions. The new mummy wasn’t a mummy at all. It was a woman who had died only recently.
It emerged that black market dealers in Pakistan may have been murdering young girls and mummifying their corpses to sell as antiquities. The Persian Princess was really a homicide victim, killed in 1996. Although nothing was ever definitively proven, it is thought that other missing girls from Pakistan may have suffered a similar horrifying fate.
3. Wych Elm Bella
Image: David Buttery
When young Bob Farmer decided to climb the old elm tree on Lord Cobham’s Birmingham estate in 1943, he could have had no idea that he was about to spark a decades-long mystery. Inside the rotten, hollow tree, the boy found a grinning skull, the remains of a human body, and the rotten remnants of clothes and a gold wedding ring. One of the body’s hands was missing. The tale of Wych Elm Bella had begun.
Authorities determined the corpse belonged to a woman aged around 35 years, who had given birth at least once. They also found she’d been asphyxiated and had died over a year before. Beyond that, there was nothing…almost. Not long after the body was found, chilling graffiti began to appear across Birmingham asking: “Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?”
It’s a question we’ve never been able to answer. Some think the graffiti artist and the murderer were one and the same, a serial killer taunting police. Some suggested the missing hand showed occult involvement. Others thought it had simply been removed by animals. It’s been said that Bella may have been Clara Bauerle - a Nazi spy who purportedly disappeared in Britain during the dark depths of the war, possibly at the hands of MI5. Yet this claim has been disputed. Meanwhile, the graffiti message continues to resurface in 2016, haunting local residents.
4. The Boy in the Box
The Boy in the Box may be one of the saddest mysteries ever recorded in America. In February 1957, a college student found a cardboard box lying by the side of an anonymous road outside Philadelphia. Inside was the battered body of a boy aged between 4 and 6-years-old. How he got there, and who left him in such a grim condition, is an unsolved mystery.
Whoever this child was, it seems his short life was an unhappy one. Sometime just before his death, the boy had received a strange, ragged ‘unprofessional’ haircut. His body showed signs of neglect before his murder. Police investigated a nearby foster home, but could find no sign of a missing child, nor any evidence that the boy had ever been there.
To this day, the events that led to this unidentified child’s body being found in the woods, alone and cold and forgotten, are unknown. Where he came from, and why he died such a tragic death, are questions that have not yet been answered.
5. The Whitehall Mystery
Image: Anthony O’Neil
In 1888, as Jack the Ripper scorched his perverted trail across London, another murderer quietly carried out a hideous crime. At the site of the New Scotland Yard, a package was discovered containing human body parts. Further investigation found a torso placed inside the building’s unfinished cellars. A leg was found nearby, and a right arm and shoulder were pulled from the Thames. On the very site of Britain’s new elite police force, someone had pulled off an audacious murder.
When the located body parts were examined, they were found to belong to an overweight woman of around 24 years. Her uterus had been removed. Her arms had been sliced off with surgical precision, suggesting a killer with a knowledge of anatomy. By the time she was found, she had been dead for over six weeks. No motive was ever discovered, and no-one apprehended. Just as Jack the Ripper ultimately would, the Whitehall killer slipped away into the night, his identity and that of his victim unknown till this very day.
6. The Norfolk Headless Body
The flat, dream-like expanses of Norfolk are the sort of place you can all too easily imagine a bleak and brutal horror story unfolding. One grey morning in 1973, 19-year-old tractor driver Andrew Head stumbled right into that story. At the edge of a gravel path he found the body of a woman. She was dressed only in a pink nightdress, her hands and feet bound. She had been decapitated and left in a ditch, her head nowhere to be found.
A large-scale police investigation was quickly mounted, but the woman was never identified; the rest of her body never located. The only hard clue came from the rope binding her. It was of a type often used in agricultural machinery. But in a place like Norfolk, with more farms than you can shake a stick at, that wasn’t much of a clue.
Subsequent forensic investigation revealed that the unidentified murder victim likely came from Scandinavia or Central Europe. It’s thought she may have been a Danish prostitute known as “the Duchess” who vanished in Great Yarmouth in August 1973, leaving all her possessions behind. But lacking any formal identification or motive, it seems apparent that this is an unsolved mystery that will endure.
Image: Diliff – CC-BY-SA 3.0
That a murder like “Adam’s” could happen in 21st century Britain is perhaps the most-shocking aspect of this gruesome story. On September 21, 2001, as the rest of the world was reeling from the 9/11 terror attacks, the body of a young Nigerian boy was pulled from the River Thames in London. He had been poisoned, his throat slit and his limbs and head removed with expert precision. It didn’t take police long to figure out that the 7-year-old had been ritually sacrificed.
Forensic tests revealed that “Adam” came from near Benin City in Nigeria, a region alive with superstition, voodoo and ritualistic killings by witch doctors. He’d been trafficked to London specifically to be sacrificed, raising the terrifying prospect of a murderous cult operating within the dark, beating heart of London itself. Although police appealed for information, the story was buried by coverage of the 9/11 attacks. With 3,000 dead, an extra body could easily be lost.
Since that day, no similar ritual killings seem to have taken place in Britain. Yet “Adam” remains anonymous, his killers unpunished, his death a throwback to a darker time.
8. Long Beach Jane Doe
The story of the Long Beach Jane Doe is unusual in that her killer is in police custody. In 2013, Gary Stamp was arrested for raping and strangling a woman in 1974, and dumping her body on a jetty in Long Beach, California. Stamp has confessed to the crime, and has agreed to help police identify the victim. The only problem: Stamp can’t remember anything about her.
It seems she was a random woman Stamp picked up, rather than someone known to him. Although she may have once told Stamp her name, he forgot it in the intervening years. It’s a strangely horrifying thought. She was the woman Stamp killed. The girl whose life he wrestled out of her with his fingertips. And yet she’d somehow faded from his memory, becoming just another dim and distant face from the past.
This means the Long Beach Jane Doe is unlikely to ever be identified beyond what we already know: that she was Hispanic, had a ‘T’ shaped scar on the back of one hand, and was wearing a diamond engagement ring. Like the unidentified murder victim, the name of the man who gave her the ring remains unknown.
9. Gilpin County Jane Doe
Image: Denver Police Department
In 1952, carpenter Charles Damoth came across a burned body in the woods outside Denver, Colorado. The woman had been beaten to death with a stick, her remains set on fire. A charred log lay across what was left of her broken skeleton. Damoth returned home. But he didn’t call the police. Instead, he waited a while before returning to the crime scene. He would wind up returning to look at the broken body two more times before finally alerting the authorities.
Thanks to Damoth’s suspicious behaviour, he quickly became a suspect. It didn’t help that he admitted to cutting the log that was used to burn the victim - although he said he’d done so several months before, for a fire he never got round to building. Not long after, a witness even came forward, putting Damoth’s truck at the scene of the murder.
Yet Damoth was given lie detector tests and a “truth serum” and passed on each occasion. Nor could anyone identify the dead woman, or posit any possible relationship between her and Damoth. The case remains officially unsolved.
10. The Redhead Murders
Image: Sunny Ripert; used for illustration purposes only.
The Redhead Murders represent a terrifying possibility, an image of evil that may just be a hallucination caused by swirling shadows. Between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, a group of women with red hair turned up one-by-one, murdered and dumped by stretches of lonely American highway. Most were left without clothes. Most were strangled or suffocated. Most have never been identified.
The closeness of the MOs have made some suspect a serial killer. Yet there are significant differences that suggest they could be coincidental. What’s not in doubt is the killer’s (or killers’) expertise in choosing victims. The unidentified murder victims seem to have had no close family, and may have been prostitutes or itinerant hitchhikers. They were, it seems, without friends. As a result, despite many of their faces being available to look up online, they remain Jane Does. Perhaps their identities will never truly be known.
Top image: Skull of an unidentified murder victim found in Australia in 1941. Credit: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited.]